The Dutchman held off the Italian Marco Serpellini and his fellow countryman, Wiebren Veenstra, as 11 riders crashed on the final corner. None of the fallers, though, will miss the start of the five-day tour today.
Yesterday's one-hour circuit race, the Kellogg's Grand Prix, was an appetiser for the 450 miles ahead, and the 35-year-old van der Poel made the most of it. In cyclo- cross during the winter, he has won five silver medals but never gold. For the superstitious, his father-in-law is Raymond Poulidor, who earned the nickname of the Eternal Second for his Tour de France performances, and for the record, van der Poel was second in the Kellogg's Tour two years ago.
Yesterday's race lacked the four major teams from whose ranks the 1994 Tour winner should come, significantly Motorola, who are seeking four wins in a row.
Phil Anderson, now 36 and considering retirement after 15 seasons, won his second Kellogg's title last year and the Australian is keen to celebrate that anniversary.
The tour, however, is wide open and the organisers boast their best field in eight years with three yellow jersey men from the Tour de France and the World Cup holder, Maurizio Fondriest.
Of those who wore yellow, Sean Yates is a long-serving team-mate of Anderson from the beginning of their careers with Peugeot and he has an extra reason for seeking victory. This could be his last season, which has already been crowned by a day as Tour de France leader. To win his home tour would be the finishing touch.
Within the 17 teams, there are many to upset such plans. Vyacheslav Ekimov won the American Tour DuPont in May, and is in a WordPerfect team bristling with potential.
Johan Museeuw, second in the World Cup, wore the Tour de France yellow jersey, as did Flavio Vanzella, his GB MG team-mate. Also in their line-up is the 1992 Kellogg's Tour winner, Max Sciandri.
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